Future Homes Standard: new decade, new challenges

3 February 2020 | By Chris Paul

Infrared thermovision image showing lack of thermal insulation on a residential building

How will the housing market respond to the government’s latest Building Regulations consultation? Chris Paul examines the implications.

Chris Paul

In October 2019, the government launched a consultation on proposed changes to Part L (Conservation of Fuel and Power) and Part F (Ventilation) of the Building Regulations for new dwellings. The changes provide an important first step towards the Future Homes Standard, which is due to be introduced in 2025.

These changes help to implement the UK’s Net Zero 2050 target, which became legally binding in June last year. The government is not expected to consult on the full Future Homes Standard until 2024, but there is an expectation that homes built to that standard will have 75%-80% less carbon emissions than homes built to current standards. That requires very high fabric standards and low carbon heating systems. Get ready for a future involving heat pumps, triple glazing and low heat loss designs.

In the meantime, the market needs to get moving in the right direction. As flagged in the consultation, homes being built now and in the next 5-10 years will still exist in 2050. The proposed uplift in standards seeks to make homes more energy efficient, and to future-proof them for low-carbon heating sources. It also provides clear policy direction, giving time to develop new technology and help supply chains to manage the transition to the 2025 Future Homes Standard.

The consultation proposes a number of changes to the current Part L standards (see box). These changes have cost implications and it remains to be seen whether these projected costs are realistic, and what impact it will have on land values and the viability of new-build schemes – particularly outside the south east.

If the government goes ahead with its preferred Option 2, a 31% reduction in carbon emissions, then the reliance on low-carbon heating will mean that new homes have a lower fabric standard than under Option 1. Such homes are likely to require retrofit measures to meet the Net Zero standards during their lifetime, which will need to be considered by purchasers.

The consultation runs until 7 February 2020. Expect the full response to be published by mid-2020, with the new regulations in force by the end of the year.

Chris Paul is a partner with Trowers & Hamlins

Proposed changes to Part L

Changing the energy performance target
The government acknowledges that CO2 emissions are not a direct measure of energy efficiency and become less important when new dwellings rely on electricity, for example, heat pumps. The proposal is that primary energy will become the main performance metric, but with CO2 emissions retained as a secondary metric.

To avoid the risk of developers selecting direct electric heating (with expensive running costs), a householder affordability standard is proposed. This may link to the Energy Efficiency Rating calculated as part of the EPC.

Uplifting energy efficiency standards
The consultation identifies two options for the CO₂ and primary energy targets:

Transitional arrangements
At present, when a developer submits a building notice or full plans application, the Building Regulations standards in place at the time of the application are locked in. That is a concern where Building Regulations change over the life of a phased development.

Under the proposed changes, transitional arrangements will only apply to individual buildings where work has actually started within a reasonable period (to be defined). That could mean differing standards applying to subsequent phases, with associated build cost implications.

The Planning and Energy Act 2008 (as amended) currently allows planning authorities to require energy efficiency standards for new homes that exceed the requirements of the Building Regulations. While this has allowed some planning authorities to push more ambitious targets, a consistent approach may be helpful for developers.

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